OARDC Researcher, Pioneering Work Honored in Europe

April 11, 2003

WOOSTER, Ohio -- U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan couldn’t attend the March 21 ceremony because of the war in Iraq. But that didn’t prevent Ohio State University researcher Linda Saif from fully enjoying her “once-in-a-lifetime experience” -- receiving an honorary doctorate from Ghent University, one of the most prestigious educational institutions in Europe. A scientist with the Food Animal Health Research Program (FAHRP) of the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC) in Wooster, Saif was conferred the award for her internationally recognized work on intestinal diseases (rotaviruses and caliciviruses), which affect both food-producing animals and humans. “The great merit of Linda Saif is that her research on pigs is fully applicable to humans,” said Maurice Pensaert, chair of Ghent’s Veterinary Virology Department, who nominated Saif for the honorary degree. “She has managed, in a brilliant way, to bridge the gap between fundamental and applied research.” Ghent University also awarded its doctorate honoris causa to Annan, who sent a note expressing his regrets for not being able to attend, and five other prestigious university researchers and scholars from around the world. Two of them are Harvard University evolutionary biologist Richard Lewontin (one of the most influential geneticists and philosophers of science during the past three decades) and Richard Epstein (a University of Chicago Law School professor famous for his controversial books on the theory of limited state powers). “The ceremony was very impressive,” said Saif, who was accompanied by mentor Ed Bohl, former FAHRP researcher and OARDC professor emeritus. “I also had the opportunity of giving a seminar about my research at Ghent’s Veterinary School.” Before Saif received her diploma on the stage of the Aula (an exquisite neo-classical building that serves as the university’s auditorium), Pensaert read a summary of her scientific accomplishments to the gathering of faculty members and administrators. Pensaert highlighted Saif and Bohl’s research that led to the discovery of an immunological relationship between the intestine and the mammary gland in pigs. This finding has enabled the development of methods to control viral diarrhea in young food-producing animals, which are commonly used worldwide. “The existence of such a relationship between intestine and mammary gland was also revealed in humans,” Pensaert pointed out. “This provided a clear scientific explanation of why lactating infants are optimally protected against viral diarrhea for the entire duration of lactation. Their research has also led to the discovery, in humans and animals, of the existence of an immunological relationship between various glands in the common mucosal immune system, which also represents an innovation in the field of vaccination.” Throughout her extensive career, Saif has also identified new intestinal viruses and developed diagnostic tests and research methods for working with them in the laboratory. Hailed by her colleagues as “the world’s foremost authority on the immune response of newborns to intestinal infections” and “the most outstanding virologist and immunologist in the research field that deals with gastrointestinal viruses,” Saif is currently developing vaccines to prevent rotavirus diarrhea, which kills nearly one million children every year. “I will treasure this honorary degree,” Saif said. “To me, it symbolizes international recognition of the accomplishments of my excellent research group, including the contributions of my former students and postdoctoral researchers, as well as the joint work with Dr. Bohl. It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.” Saif earned her B.A. from the College of Wooster in 1969. She then received M.S. (1971) and Ph.D. (1976) degrees in microbiology/immunology from Ohio State. She has been an OARDC faculty member since 1979, garnering more than $14 million in research grants and publishing numerous articles in books and professional journals. In 2002, Saif became the first Ohio State researcher not based on the Columbus campus to be recognized as a Distinguished University Professor, the highest honor the university bestows upon faculty for their accomplishments in research, scholarly or creative work, teaching and service. OARDC is the research arm of Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences. Photo Caption: Linda Saif receives her honorary doctorate diploma from Ghent University rector Andreas De Leenheer. Maurice Pensaert, chair of Ghent’s Veterinary Virology Department, looks on. Photo by Hilde Christiaens, Ghent University.

Mauricio Espinoza
Linda Saif